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Saint Damien, the Leprosy Colony on Molokai, Hawaiian Sovereignty, and the Akaka Bill. Sovereign monarchs of the Hawaiian Kingdom badly abused the victims of leprosy. Today Damien, the patron saint of Native Hawaiians, would not be allowed to join the Akaka tribe.

Photos show a tapestry of Saint Damien that was placed on the front of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome to celebrate his canonization on Sunday October 11, 2009. Left photo from Honolulu Advertiser news report copied below, showing the tapestry alone. Right photo from Honolulu Star-Bulletin news report copied below, showing the tapestry in the context of a wider view.


(c) Copyright October 11, 2009 Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved

The leprosy colony on Molokai was established in 1866 by order of King Lot Kamehameha V. It continued under Kings Lunalilo and Kalakaua, and Queen Liliuokalani. About 90% of the lepers were native Hawaiians.

Four sovereign monarchs of the Kingdom, exercising self-determination on behalf of native Hawaiians, maintained a policy of quarantine and exile, destroying ohana (family) by separating leprosy victims from their spouses, and sending them to die in a remote place. People whose mouths were twisted by disease and unable to speak had to fetch food and clean bodily wastes for people who had lost hands and feet to the disease; while the latter helped the former by speaking for them. Only later did the government relent and allow one spouse, family member, or friend to serve as a kokua (caregiver), accompanying the leper into lifelong exile.

Medical advances following Hawaii Statehood in 1959 eventually provided drugs to control the ravages of leprosy and make it non-contagious. In 1969 the State of Hawaii repealed the laws for mandatory exile of leprosy patients, but generously provided funding to allow all people who were living in the colony to stay there for the rest of their lives if they wished. About 20 such people continue living there today, free to travel or to live elsewhere but preferring to stay. Eleven of them attended the canonization of Saint Damien in Rome.

The Kingdom government headed by Kamehameha V, Lunalilo, Kalakaua, and Liliuokalani provided almost no medical care, housing, food or clothing for the leprosy colony. The government did not even create a pier or a cut a path through the reef for boats, so new arrivals at the leprosy colony were thrown off the boat near the reef and had to swim for shore with their meagre belongings. Rarely supply boats arrived, usually unannounced, and would deliver goods in the same way, requiring leprosy patients to swim out to collect the packages floating in the ocean. An excellent book describing the horrors of life there was published by John Tayman entitled "The Colony: The Harrowing True Story of the Exiles of Molokai" (Scribner, 2006).

Most of the help given to the leprosy exiles during the Kingdom period came from private sources, who were mostly Caucasian. Native alii gave little from their own wealth, although they did occasionally sponsor collections of money and supplies through charities whose main donors were Caucasian and Asian businessmen. Missionaries came from abroad, including the two most famous ones who served the leprosy colony. Saint Damien came from Belgium, was ordained as a priest in Honolulu, and arrived on Moloka'i in 1873 after volunteering (actually demanding) to live among the lepers. Blessed Mother Marianne Cope was born in Germany, grew up in America, came to Hawaii with several other nuns of her religious order specifically assigned to care for leprosy patients, and moved to Kalaupapa in 1888 at Damien's request. The Catholic (and Mormon) missionaries of the mid-to-late 1800s were following in the footsteps of the Protestant missionaries from New England who had arrived beginning in 1820.

It's important to remember that the old Hawaiian religion was abolished by order of King Liholiho Kamehameha II, his stepmother Kaahumanu, and High Priest Hewahewa, in 1819. An alii, Kekuaokalani, had inherited Kukailimoku (the war god) from Kamehameha The Great. Kekuaokalani led the diehard deadenders in a brief civil war to defend the old religion, but they were all slaughtered in battle.

The first Christian missionaries arrived the following year, 1820, having been invited by five native Hawaiians who were studying Christianity at Yale, including the crown prince of the island of Kauai. When the missionaries arrived they had no idea that the old religion had already been abolished and the path was clear for them to convert tens of thousands of natives. See especially a webpage about Opukahaia, a Hawaiian refugee from Kamehameha's wars who arrived at Yale in 1809 and whose hard work, intelligence, passion, and eloquence until his death at Yale in 1818 were the main inspiration for the missionaries to come to Hawaii:

The cover of the OHA newspaper for October has a beautiful painting of Damien with Moloka'i in the background, with the headline "Father Damien: Patron Saint of Native Hawaiians."

Really? Patron saint of Native Hawaiians? But if Saint Damien were alive today, he would not be allowed to sign up for the Kau Inoa racial registry sponsored by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. That's because Damien lacks a drop of the magic blood. OHA's attitude seems to be "Please come help us. Spend your life serving our needs, and dying from a horrible disease you catch from us. But you will never truly be one of us and we will always deny you full participation in our lives." Damien would be excluded from the Akaka tribe as ruthlessly as haoles are excluded from Kamehameha School and for exactly the same reason -- race. Please see this powerful one-minute video about Saint Damien's exclusion from the Akaka tribe, produced and narrated by Jere Krischel:

At the canonization mass celebrated by the Pope on Sunday October 11, 2009 in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, Hawaii Senator Dan Akaka was seated in the front row while hundreds of Hawaii pilgrims were forced to sit outside in the rain. Apparently Senator Akaka felt that he should attend as a representative of Hawaii and especially because Akaka has Hawaiian native blood like most of the lepers helped by Damien. Akaka got front-row indoor seating because he's an alii. Let the makaainana sit ouside in the rain. "They have no bread? Let them eat cake." (famous words of French Princess Marie Antoinette). He could have shown the Aloha Spirit (described by his brother the late Abraham Akaka), and a measure of personal charity, by giving his ticket to one of the pilgrims from Molokai who spent their life savings to attend and ended up watching the sacred ceremony on a Jumbotron with no better view than we Hawaiians who watched it on TV in our homes. Surely one of Senator Akaka's servant-retainers with no native blood (perhaps Jesse Broder Van Dyke) would have held an umbrella over his head.

Senator Akaka was exactly the worst person in the world to be at that ceremony, because of the profound disrespect for Damien in the racially exclusionary concept that is the heart of the Akaka bill. Akaka's presence at the canonization mass was hewa (morally sinful).

What penance should Akaka perform? Withdraw the Akaka bill and solemnly vow to Saint Damien never to reintroduce anything like it.


** Following are several news reports and editorials published in major Hawaii newspapers on Sunday, October 11, 2009

1. News report from Honolulu Advertiser

2. News report from Honolulu Star-Bulletin

3. Editorial from Honolulu Advertiser

4. Editorial from Honolulu Star-Bulletin

5. Commentary by Honolulu Star-Bulletin religion columnist, featuring a mural honoring Saint Damien designed by Honolulu artist Peggy Chun, who recently died from Lou Gehrig's disease following several years of a very public steady decline and paralysis.

6. News report from The Maui News (Moloka'i is included as a part of Maui County).

7. Commentary in The Maui News by Valerie Monson, coordinator of Ka 'Ohana O Kalaupapa. She was formerly a staff writer for The Maui News and has interviewed and written about the people of Kalaupapa for more than 20 years. She lives in Makawao.

8. Plans are being finalized for a memorial monument at Kalaupapa to contain the names of about 8000 Leprosy patients who died there, many of whose graves are unmarked. The monument will be built on the grounds of the Baldwin Home, a residence built in 1894 with funds donated by Henry Baldwin, where about 2000 Leprosy victims lived over a period of decades. Note that Baldwin was a Caucasian sugar plantation owner, and he donated the money because the Kingdom of Hawaii had not provided the housing or money.

Honolulu Advertiser, Sunday, October 11, 2009

Damien sainted in soaring ceremony

By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Staff Writer

VATICAN CITY In front of at least 20,000 people this morning in St. Peter's Basilica, Pope Benedict XVI made official what many in Hawai'i always knew that "Kamiano" of Moloka'i, whose unwavering compassion in the face of so much suffering has become a parable for our times, led a life worthy of elevation to sainthood.

The pope, in Flemish, told attendees that Father Damien went to Moloka'i though he knew doing so was exposing himself to Hansen's disease.

The pontiff added that when Damien got there he felt "at home."

More than 550 Islanders made the 12,000-mile trek to Rome for the canonization of Hawai'i's first saint, which comes 120 years after Father Damien's death in Kalaupapa from Hansen's disease and follows a decades-long push to see the hero that the isolated Hansen's disease settlement gave the world recognized for his tremendous sacrifice.

The canonization was held in the basilica at the last minute because of wet weather.

It meant that far fewer people were able to watch the ceremony in person because the basilica's maximum capacity is about 20,000. The square can fit 50,000 or more.

Those who couldn't get into the basilica, after a frantic push and shove for available seats, grabbed spots in the square, where they watched the ceremony on large television screens.

The ceremony was conducted largely in Italian.

Sitting near the front of the basilica shortly after attendees were allowed in around 8:30 a.m. (8:30 p.m. yesterday Hawai'i time) were 11 of the last remaining Hawai'i residents sent to Kalaupapa after being diagnosed with Hansen's disease when the state still imposed quarantine restrictions on those with the sickness.

Today, those patients are mostly in their 70s and 80s, and are grateful to be witnessing Father Damien's canonization. So many of their friends died before the day came, they said.

Kalaupapa resident Elroy Makia Malo called Father Damien his hero.

"He caught the disease and he died," Malo said. "To have given his life for what he believed in. Oh, it makes me feel small."

The pontiff emerged about 10 a.m. for the canonization ceremony.

At 10:30, he read a Latin passage that added Father Damien and four others to the Canon of Saints of the Roman Catholic Church.

Among those seated in a VIP section was 'Aiea resident Audrey Toguchi, whose cure from an aggressive cancer 11 years ago after refusing medical treatment and praying to Damien instead was the second miracle attributed to the priest, assuring his elevation to sainthood.

Speaking after the canonization ceremony, patient Gloria Marks said, "Finally we can go home and take our saint with us. It's a very moving experience."

In celebration of the canonization, the Vatican hung five huge tapestries one for each saint on the facade of St. Peter's Basilica facing into St. Peter's Square. The tapestries measured about 14 feet long and 12 feet wide. The image used for Damien's tapestry is one of the most well-known photos of the priest, taken near the end of his life, where the tell-tale signs of Hansen's disease were evident on his face and his hands.

The Very Rev. Javier Alvarez Ossorio, superior general of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts, of which Father Damien was a member, said the photo was chosen because it shows the priest bearing a "badge of honor" that he wore proudly because it brought him closer to the people he served.

About 250 Sacred Hearts brothers and 150 Sacred Hearts sisters from around the world attended the canonization the biggest assembly of Sacred Hearts congregation members in years. Ossorio said the canonization is a joyous occasion and the highest possible affirmation that Damien lived a holy life.

Father Damien is the first saint from the Sacred Hearts congregation, and the ninth person who has been elevated to sainthood for good works on what is now American soil.

The Rev. Christopher Keahi, the provincial superior for the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts in the Islands, said the canonization cause took lots of hard work and prayer.

"It is just a miracle," he said.

Ossorio added, "We all knew that he was a saint. One-hundred and 20 years (since his death), and here we are."

Father Damien died of Hansen's disease in 1889, at age 49.

He had come to Kalaupapa 16 years before, volunteering to minister to the sick who had been sent to the settlement a natural prison to die.

Over the course of his time in Kalaupapa, Father Damien helped to create a community worth being proud of, using his skills as a priest and humanitarian to help ease suffering, his skills with a hammer and nails to build a church, a school and coffins, and his at-times stubborn, irascible nature to advocate for a people that had been all but forgotten.

Many Hawai'i residents have been waiting a lifetime for Father Damien's elevation to sainthood.

There were calls for his canonization shortly after his death, but Father Damien's official cause for sainthood wasn't introduced until 1955. It took 40 more years for Damien to be beatified, given the title "blessed," the step before sainthood.

Sister Roselani Enomoto of Downtown, took a pilgrimage to Italy with the patients, Honolulu Bishop Larry Silva and about 500 other Islanders because she wasn't about to miss the canonization of Father Damien.

"I never dreamed Damien would be canonized in my lifetime. He is like an idol for me," she said. "He has reached the halls of sanctity. He is the model for us."

Kailua resident Lucy Poueu said she was touched as a child by Damien's story, when she learned about him in school.

"He gave his life," she said. "He is such an inspiring person."

In addition to the Hawai'i group at the canonization for Damien, there was a large contingent of Belgians. In Father Damien's home country, the priest is a national icon and a beloved hero.

There were also a handful of Hansen's disease patients from other parts of the world who hope Damien's canonization will help reduce the stigma associated with the illness.

"It's a good opportunity to honor Father Damien by continuing the search for justice," said Anwei Law, the international coordinator of IDEA, an international advocacy group for those with Hansen's disease.

In a statement issued earlier this week, Hawai'i-born President Obama said he learned of Father Damien and his "tireless work" while growing up in the Islands.

He continued, "Father Damien challenged the stigmatizing effects of the disease, giving voice to the voiceless and ultimately sacrificing his own life to bring dignity to so many. In our own time as millions around the world suffer from disease, especially the pandemic of HIV/AIDS, we should draw on the example of Father Damien's resolve in answering the urgent call to heal and care for the sick."

During the ceremony, the pope was to present Honolulu Diocese Bishop Larry Silva with a small box containing the heel of Father Damien.

The Damien relic is the second to come to the Islands from the Vatican. In 1995, Damien's right hand was re-interred at Kalaupapa after the Sacred Hearts priest was beatified.

Damien was buried in 1889 at Kalaupapa. In 1936, his body was moved to a tomb in Louvain, Belgium, just outside his hometown of Tremelo, at the request of the Belgian government.

Ossorio, of the Sacred Hearts congregation, said the relic's return is symbolic. His right hand is what he used to perform his priestly duties.

"Now we have the feet because he was a pilgrim," Ossorio said. "He left his house, his homeland. He was always walking, going to the people."

Last night, Ossorio celebrated a vigil Mass in Damien's honor at the Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome. Thousands turned out for the ceremony, which was conducted in several other languages English, Spanish, French and German.

Outside the basilica before the ceremony, attendees mingled with one another, some greeting friends from other countries they hadn't seen in years.

Father Zdzislaw Swiniarski traveled to the canonization from Poland with a group of about 300 parishioners. He said Father Damien's story is so moving for so many people worldwide because he put the "gospel into practice."

Honolulu Star-Bulletin, October 11, 2009

World embraces caring soul

By Mary Adamski

VATICAN CITY Damien De Veuster, the Belgian priest who sacrificed his life ministering to the forsaken leprosy victims at Kalaupapa in the 19th Century, was added to the litany of Roman Catholic saints today in a solemn Mass led by Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter's Basilica.

The canonization ceremony of Father Damien of Molokai ended a decades-long effort by supporters who considered him worthy of the church's highest honor.

The crowd, estimated in the tens of thousands, included the Aiea woman whose cure from a deadly form of cancer was attributed to her prayers to Damien. The church considers her cure as one of the two Damien miracles -- a key requirement for sainthood.

An early-morning thunderstorm led officials to change the venue of today's Mass from the outdoor St. Peter's Square to the majestic St. Peter's Basilica.

The skies had mostly cleared as 600 pilgrims from Hawaii waited in line for two hours outside the Basilica, from 7 to 9 a.m. in Rome for their chance to witness Catholic Church and Hawaii history.

Pope Benedict's formal proclamation ushered five new saints into the Catholic Church, including Hawaii's Blessed Father Damien De Veuster, now St. Damien.

"He doesn't just belong to us," said Gayle Early of Maui. "I'm absolutely shocked how many people are here for Damien. We think he belongs to Hawaii -- who knew he was so famous in Spain?" she said.

A Spanish choir sang songs in honor of Damien before the pope entered the basilica at about 10 a.m. to preside over the Canonization Mass.

Patients from Kalaupapa, some in wheelchairs, were ushered to the front of the basilica.

Audrey Toguchi, 81, of Aiea was chosen to participate in the Mass, as was Dr. Walter Chang, who diagnosed her terminal lung cancer in 1998. The tumors disappeared after she prayed for Damien's intercession with God to heal her.


Today is St. Damien Day in Hawaii, according to a state proclamation presented to pilgrams in Rome by Lt. Gov. James Aiona Friday night. "His service and ministry at Kalaupapa has perpetuated the spirit of aloha, and has offered hope and inspiration to past, present and future generations," the proclamation said. "In Hawaii, Damien remains a spiritual hero and an icon of love, compassion, humility and humanitarian service."

Aiona and Gov. Linda Lingle signed the proclamation Oct. 1 to recognize Damien's contributions to the people of Hawaii. It was presented to Bishop Larry Silva and other Hawaii residents attending the ceremonies at the Vatican.

Aiona said he used personal funds to pay for his trip to Rome with his wife.

Toguchi and Chang presented gifts to the pope.

Damien was not the sole center of attention. People also crowded in to support Jeanne Jugan, founder of the Little Sisters of the Poor; Polish Archbishop Zygmunt Felinski, who founded a religious order for women after being exiled 20 years in Siberia; Father Francisco Coll y Guitart, a traveling evangelist in 19th-century Spain; and Friar Rafael Arnaiz Baron, a Spanish Trappist monk who died at 27 and draws followers for his writing on spirituality.

The majority of Hawaii residents witnessing the elevation of the man they already considered Hawaii's saint were members of a pilgrimage tour led by Catholic Bishop Larry Silva. They were discernible as a mass of yellow baseball caps in the crowd.

Special guests included the king and queen of Belgium, Damien's homeland; U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka; U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Miguel Diaz; and others designated by President Barack Obama as the U.S. delegation to the event, including Steve Prokop, superintendent of the National Park Service, which maintains and administers Kalaupapa today.

Sitting teary-eyed in the crowd were Monica Bacon and her mother, Mary Hutchinson Bacon, whose grandfather's brother was one of Damien's closest friends. They held copies of photographs of Ambrose Hutchison, who went to Kalawao in 1879 as a patient, became a supervisor for the Board of Health and died in 1932.

"I think Father Damien would wonder what the fuss is all about," said Monica Bacon. "He was a person of action when others weren't. We're here to honor him and a member of our family."

Father Damien

Born Joseph De Veuster, he took the name Damien when he joined the Sacred Hearts order, the name of a 3rd-century doctor who was martyred because he was Christian. He came to Hawaii in the place of his ailing brother and served on Hawaii island for nine years as pastor and builder of churches. He volunteered to serve as pastor at Kalawao, the place of banishment for leprosy victims on the Kalaupapa peninsula. He died of the disease in 1889 after 16 years of service.

The Rev. Javier Alvarez-Ossorio, leader of the Sacred Hearts congregation worldwide, said canonization celebrates God, "the spirit that created such a masterpiece as Damien from human clay."

Alvarez-Ossorio said that instead of an artist's interpretation of Damien, they chose to use a photograph showing the ravages of the disease on his right hand and face for the banner flying outside the basilica. "The hand of Damien is shown here; in Kalaupapa it was the hand that helped, blessed people, building churches and houses," said the priest.

Honolulu Advertiser, Sunday, October 11, 2009

Hawaii's saint fulfilled humanity's ideals

The role of a saint in the Roman Catholic Church is to serve as a model to emulate, an inspiration and example for others.

But the Islands' fervent embrace of Damien de Veuster, "the leper priest of Molokai" now known as St. Damien, speaks to his extraordinary intimacy with ordinary life. While the grandeur of the canonization rites conferring that sainthood doubtlessly enthralled the large contingent of Isle residents in attendance, it was Damien's humble service to the most needy that made him a child of this land, someone immersed in Hawaii's real problems and lovingly entwined with its people.

And this is the true power of Damien's exemplary work: The most ordinary among us can, in our own small way, follow his example by helping the needy all around us.

It's hard to imagine attaining the same level of selflessness, of course. Even Mahatma Gandhi counted Damien as an inspiration. But upon the start of his life's work, the simple priest himself felt friendless and utterly alone in his mission.

Kalaupapa was a remote peninsular colony for those diagnosed with Hansen's disease, which was many decades from a cure. It was a hellish dumping grounds when Damien landed in 1873.

The patients left there could hardly be called patients at all, since authorities had abandoned them to die. That inhumane treatment reverberated in the inhumane way they treated each other.

Damien's response? He met them with love, became not only their priest but their teacher, champion and helper. No task was too menial if it meant his people could find a little happiness and comfort.

And in the end, when he was diagnosed with Hansen's disease, he bridged the final gap. That Sunday he began his sermon not with his customary "my brothers and sisters" but addressed the flock as "my fellow lepers."

It was the ultimate devotional sacrifice that can be celebrated by all people, regardless of faith.

There is surely great pride in the hearts of Belgians for their native son, but ample reason for people of Hawaii to honor Damien de Veuster as one of our own. Consider the values held in high regard in the host culture of the Islands among them love and generosity, both the earthly and spiritual kind. Damien, the only saint who spoke Hawaiian, understood these ideals well.

And there have been few people who fulfilled these ideals, throughout the history of Hawaii, as fully as St. Damien of Molokai.

Honolulu Star-Bulletin, October 11, 2009

Damien a hero to all

Particulars of the Roman Catholic Church's process of elevating a deceased church member to sainthood might sometimes be of passing interest. Today's canonization of Father Damien de Veuster is not such a case, for his heroics and goodness amid the leprosy sufferers of Molokai merit elevation that crosses denominational indeed, theological lines and should be celebrated by all.

That level of appreciation for the Belgian-born Joseph de Veuster, who took the name of a third-century Christian martyr and physician, to the altar in 1859, was obvious during his lifetime. He would have quickly become a saint during the church's first thousand years, when a local church could simply declare someone holy.

Arriving in Honolulu in 1864 and ordained a Catholic priest in Our Lady of Peace Cathedral, he was assigned by the church to the Big Island and, in 1873, volunteered to serve as pastor of Hansen's disease patients who had been banished to Molokai.

In an 1863 letter to his brother Pamphile, also a priest, Damien told of providing assistance to all the patients without distinction of religion.

"Consequently every one, with the exception of a few bigoted heretics, look on me as father," he wrote.

"As for me," he added, "I make myself a leper with the lepers, to gain all to Jesus Christ. That is why in preaching, I say 'we lepers' not 'my brethren' as in Europe."

Eleven years would pass before Damien discovered he had contracted leprosy. He died of the disease in 1889 at age 49.

Damien's potential stature was not recognized by the Vatican until 1977, when Pope Paul VI declared Damien to be "venerable," a man of heroic virtue, the first step toward sainthood. Although the pope can declare a saint immediately, the normal process is that two miracles must be associated with the potential saint. Most of the miracles involve inexplicable cures from disease in association with prayers.

In 1992, Pope John Paul II approved the cure of a 37-year-old French nun in 1895 as a miracle attributed to a novena a nine-day ritual she had begun to Damien. Her pain and symptoms were said to have disappeared overnight, and she lived for 32 more years.

The second miracle surfaced six years ago, when retired Aiea teacher Audrey Toguchi conveyed to John Paul II that her medically inexplicable cancer cure in 1998 followed her prayer at Damien's grave at Kalaupapa. Pope Benedict XVI approved the cure as the second Damien-related miracle in July of last year, setting the stage for today's entry into the canon of saints at St. Peter's Square.

"It's not the Catholic Hall of Fame," Hawaii Catholic Bishop Larry Silva told the Star-Bulletin's Mary Adamski. "What I hope most of all with these celebrations is that we catch more of Damien's spirit, his love of God and his dedication to those who are in need."

The emphasis on miracles might bring sneers from those outside the Catholic Church and even from within. The process should not color the justification of the result: Saint Damien.

Honolulu Star-Bulletin, October 11, 2009

Commentary by the Star-Bulletin's religion writer

Papal gift fulfills final wish
Peggy Chun wanted the pope to receive one of her last works, a mural of Damien

By Mary Adamski

One of the last works of Honolulu artist Peggy Chun will be presented to Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday in an event that fulfills a last wish of the artist and honors Hawaii's new saint.

This 4-by-8-foot mural by Peggy Chun depicting Father Damien de Veuster will be presented to Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday.

The 4-by-8-foot mural depicting Father Damien de Veuster surrounded by a sea of petitioning hands will be accepted by a representative of the pope at his weekly public audience at St. Peter's Square in Rome.

"It's an honor and exactly what Peggy wanted," said her daughter-in-law Kimi Chun. "Every step of this piece has been an adventure. We're so excited."

The mural, a combination of painting and mosaic, was crated up after its last display at the First Friday exhibition in downtown Honolulu.

Chun died in November after years of struggling with Lou Gehrig's disease. Paralyzed for several years, she designed the Damien work that was completed by Polish artist Magdalena Hawaiska.

At Holy Trinity School in Aina Haina, 142 students participated in the creation. They spent 18 months painting 80,000 1-inch squares of paper in bright colors for the mosaic, unveiled in March 2008. At that point, friends were trying to arrange a private medical airlift that would get Chun to Rome.

"It was a deathbed promise we made to Peggy," said Shelly Mecum, who collaborated with Chun on "The Watercolor Cat." Mecum, a teacher at Holy Trinity, wrote the text of the children's book telling Chun's story through the eyes of Chun's pet cat.

Getting the painting into the hands of the pope is a testimony to Mecum's tenacity. In a barrage of telephone calls and referrals, she found a Denver philanthropist, John Saeman, with a connection in the Vatican.

On Sept. 23, Mecum learned of the response. Archbishop James Harvey, prefect of the papal household, wrote to Seaman, "I have already assured her (Mecum) of preferential seating at the general audience of Oct. 14 so she can present her mosaic to the pope."

Mecum also secured financial help that will get her, fellow Holy Trinity teacher Christine Matsukawa and two eighth-graders, Lorrin Baptista and Mark Giron, to Rome for the event.

The presentation will come four days after the canonization ceremony during which the pope declared Damien a saint. "I'm so relieved," said Mecum. "I will be grateful to God for the rest of my life."

The Maui News, October 11, 2009

Saint Damien: Emotions run high in Rome, at home
The Canonization of Father Damien October 11, 2009

By MELISSA TANJI, Staff Writer

The man who lived and died caring for Hawaii's outcasts in Kalaupapa more than 100 years ago became St. Damien in Rome today.

In a Mass that began at 10 a.m. today in Rome, 10 p.m. Saturday in Hawaii, Pope Benedict XVI canonized Damien and four others, formally lifting them to sainthood.

The ceremony in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican began with the pope reading a formal act of canonization, and continued with a chanting of the litany of saints.

Benedict then recited the formal words of canonization, and in reciting the names of Damien and the four others, made them saints of the Roman Catholic Church.

In the hours leading up to the event, the excitement was building, and so were the crowds, said the Rev. Gary Colton of Lahaina's Maria Lanakila Church.

"It's just really hard to move," he said.

Colton called The Maui News from Rome, where it was 1 a.m. He had just returned from dinner, where his group had enjoyed music and singing, and had only five hours to rest before he would need to start getting ready to head to the Vatican for the ceremony.

An emotional, "chicken skin" moment Friday was seeing fellow travelers from Hawaii gathered together for Mass at St. Peter's Basilica.

Also in Rome, Maui Community College professor Vinnie Linares, who portrays Damien in a long-running one-man play, said he was getting more and more excited as he got closer to the moment of canonization.

"I'm getting personally charged up waiting for Sunday and elated at the meeting with Hawaii people here and there," he said. "You see them wearing Damien shirts, T-shirts and carrying Damien bags - and so many Reyn's Damien shirts. I break my new one out on Sunday."

Back on Maui, Catholics were anticipating the big moment.

"We've been so excited," said Lucy Peros, a member of Christ the King Church in Kahului.

She expected to stay up Saturday night and watch the ceremony.

Peros said she was so excited about Damien's canonization that she put together a poster of things she has collected in the past about Father Damien and has it posted in the church.

She said the church has been devoting prayers and songs to Damien for more than a week.

Patients from Kalaupapa who made the trek to Rome were having the time of their lives - and eager to witness the canonization of the man many had prayed would someday be recognized as a saint.

"Two more days," Kalaupapa resident Gloria Marks said via cell phone Friday, as she and others took a bus tour to Assisi.

To the canonization itself, Marks planned to wear a shirt bearing Damien's picture - and said she would be thinking of Kalaupapa.

"I like to thank everybody who helped support this trip," Marks said. "Thank them for their prayers."

Norbert Palea, 68, was just jazzed to be in Rome.

"It's so romantic," the Kalaupapa resident said by cell phone. "Beautiful country, nice people."

He said the group was indulging in lots of gellato and pasta.

"Lots of wining and dining. We need a bigger plane to bring us back," he said with a laugh.

Although he said his feet were sore, he was still enjoying the sights and scenery.

"We're having a good time here," he added.

Back home, patients who stayed in Kalaupapa were not planning a jubilant celebration for the canonization - which began at 10 p.m. Saturday, Hawaii time.

Father Felix Vandebroek, who ministers at St. Francis Church in Kalaupapa, expected the night to be like it has been for more than a week: "quiet and peaceful." All the community's most energetic patients have gone to Rome, he noted.

The remaining patients, who are elderly and frail, would probably watch it on television from their homes or hospital beds.

Today, patients and their supporters at Kalaupapa will have their usual Sunday morning Mass, but they may mark the occasion with a processional through the town, followed by refreshments at the hospital, then a visit to Damien's grave in Kalawao, said Valerie Monson, coordinator of Ka Ohana O Kalaupapa, which works to preserve the history of Hansen's disease patients.

"It will not have the pomp and circumstance they have in Rome, but it will be no less spiritual and inspirational," Monson said.

Anthuriums will be placed on Damien's grave in Kalawao, just as the flowers were placed on Damien's tomb in Louvain, Belgium, by Kalaupapa patients visiting there.

Monson also wants to place the flowers on all the graves of those who died in Kalaupapa.

She said so many of them had waited to see Damien become a saint.

"They really wanted to see this day," she said.

Fact Box

Jan. 3, 1840
Born Joseph de Veuster in Tremelo, Belgium.

May 21, 1864
Ordained at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Honolulu, assigned to the Big Island.

May 10, 1873
Travels to Kalawao, Molokai, in order to live and work there, ministering to leprosy patients.

Diagnosed with leprosy.

April 15, 1889
Dies. Buried beside St. Philomena Church in Kalawao.

Jan. 27, 1936
Body is exhumed and taken to Louvain, Belgium, for reburial.

July 7, 1977
Declared "venerable" by Pope Paul VI, first step toward canonization.

June 4, 1995
Beatified by Pope John Paul II in Brussels, Belgium.

July 3, 2008
Unexplained cancer cure of Hawaii resident Audrey Toguchi is accepted by Pope Benedict XVI as the miracle required for Damien's canonization.

Today, October 11, 2009
Hawaii's first saint.

POSTED: October 11, 2009

VIEWPOINT: Saint Damien -- Justice for all


While we have been reading much about the great faith, charity, compassion and self-sacrifice of Father Damien de Veuster - Saint Damien, as of today - we have heard less about one of his most important traits that helped him change life on the Kalaupapa peninsula: his inherent sense of justice.

That was the message of a resolution read in Rome on Saturday morning by three international organizations dedicated to ensuring that people affected by leprosy no longer be denied their human rights. The resolution titled "A Quest for Justice" was read aloud by people from around the world who have personally experienced leprosy. Their hope is that the canonization of Damien will provide an opportunity to take a closer look at how people who have or who have had leprosy continue to face discrimination and prejudice based on myths, old images and sensational novels.

"Father Damien insisted on justice," reads the resolution. "He insisted that people should not be deprived of their rights or value as human beings because they had a disease. He saw the value, dignity and inspiration in each person."

The resolution, which was adopted last May in anticipation of the canonization, was prepared and signed by leaders of IDEA (the International Association for Integration, Dignity and Economic Advancement), ILEP (the International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations) and AIFO (the Italian Association Amici Di Raoul Follereau). Among those who signed the document were Clarence "Boogie" Kahilihiwa, president of Ka 'Ohana O Kalaupapa, and Makia Malo, a member of the 'Ohana Board of Directors and the IDEA liason with Hawaii. The 'Ohana is a nonprofit organization made up of Kalaupapa residents, family members and longtime friends.

The resolution states that to honor the work of Father Damien, three things need to be made clear:

1. Leprosy is curable.

2. The term "leper" is not appropriate in modern times. Although the word was a historical term used during Damien's day, it has taken on increasingly negative connotations over the last century and is considered offensive by many who have had the disease and their families.

3. People who have experienced leprosy are equal partners.

From the moment that Damien landed on the shores of Kalaupapa in 1873, he was keenly aware of the violations of human rights being imposed upon people because they had contracted leprosy. He saw the anguish and turmoil caused by government policies that called for those with the disease to be separated from their loved ones and shipped to the Kalaupapa peninsula with no hope of reuniting with them.

Damien himself wrote to the government and asked that spouses be allowed to accompany their mates. In the new book, "Father Damien: A Bit of Taro, A Piece of Fish and A Glass of Water," authors Anwei and Henry Law reveal that Damien, in his report to the Board of Health in 1886, described how breaking up married couples can lead to "an oppression of mind which in many instances is more unbearable than the pain and agonies of the disease itself." Damien understood that because of the despair over the loss of family, some people in the original settlement of Kalawao would engage in reckless behavior and conduct themselves in ways they ordinarily wouldn't if they still had the comfort of loved ones.

Damien did not arrive at Kalaupapa with an air of superiority and he never developed one. From the beginning, he was a man of the people. He worked closely with those he had come to serve and he formed lasting friendships with many of the Kalaupapa residents as well as with the royal family, which was greatly concerned about the impacts of leprosy on the Hawaiian people.

When Damien arrived on the peninsula, he already spoke the Hawaiian language. He ate the same food as everyone else. He was not a man of pity, but a man of action who respected others. He advocated for more food, proper medical care, warmer clothes and better housing.

Those who knew Father Damien and who were later interviewed about him - most of them Hawaiians - spoke of him more as a brother than someone on high. All of this - Damien's kindness, his ability to fit in, his tireless energy, his innate sense of justice and, of course, his great love of God - led to Damien the Saint. It should come as no surprise that there is a grass-roots movement to name Damien the Patron Saint of Human Rights.

If we want to follow in Saint Damien's footsteps, we must not only reach out to others, but work hand-in-hand as equals for the betterment of us all.

* Valerie Monson is coordinator of Ka 'Ohana O Kalaupapa. She was formerly a staff writer for The Maui News and has interviewed and written about the people of Kalaupapa for more than 20 years. She lives in Makawao.

The Maui News, January 9, 2011

Saving Kalaupapa ties
Memorial plans move ahead with environmental review

By HARRY EAGAR, Staff Writer

A memorial to the 8,000 people who were exiled to Kalaupapa is ready to move forward now that an environmental assessment has been prepared.

Time, weather and the 1946 tsunami have destroyed most of the grave markers of the Hansen's disease (leprosy) patients who were sent to the isolated spot beginning in 1866. Only 951 marked graves remain. Since 1985, residents of the settlement have been pressing for a memorial to all who were sent there.

It required an act of Congress. Ka 'Ohana O Kalaupapa got the Hawaii delegation to sponsor the bill, and President Barack Obama signed it in 2009.

The proposed site is the field once occupied by the Baldwin Boys Home, looking out over St. Philomena's Church to the sea. Steve Prokop, superintendent of Kalaupapa National Historic Park, said the 55-acre site "is one of the most important archaeological sites" on the peninsula, and over last winter and spring three archaeologists combed the field as part of the environmental assessment.

The environmental review is open for comment through Feb. 9, and once a finding of no significant impact is accepted, Ka 'Ohana can proceed with a design competition and fundraising, according to its secretary and board member, Valerie Monson.

"The amount of money that we need to raise will depend on the preferred design," she said. "The 'Ohana Memorial Committee has already been discussing these things, and our fundraising committee will be meeting in a couple of weeks to talk more about this."

The plan is to post the names on a memorial, which will be in both English and Hawaiian, to commemorate the thousands of people who were sent away from their homes and families because of fear of the contagious disease. No cure or even palliative treatment was known in the 19th century, but in the 20th century antibiotics cured the disease and, to a great extent, the terror associated with Hansen's disease.

The few remaining patients at Kalaupapa live there by choice. Several of those who first became concerned about memorializing the dead have since died, Monson said.

The Baldwin Boys Home was their preference as the site, although more than 20 places were investigated.

Prokop said the National Park Service has a blanket policy of opposing any memorials in parks, unless authorized by Congress, because so many are proposed. Now that Congress has acted, the Kalaupapa Memorial is the first priority of the western region of the service for memorials, he said. (The repair of the Kalaupapa Trail, which collapsed last year, was the number one maintenance priority of the region last year, as well, he noted. The trail reopened in November.)

Ka 'Ohana will raise the money and conduct the design competition, which, however, will be bound by parks guidelines.

Monson said some people have thought that because it will have all the names, it will be massive, like the Vietnam Memorial.

Not so, she said. "The Vietnam Memorial has 60,000 names. . . . Ka 'Ohana wants to make sure the memorial fits in with the landscape."

Durability will be a prime consideration. The locations of many of the burials are known, Monson said. But most of the markers are missing or unreadable.

"There is one large cemetery across from the Baldwin Home where we know from the writings of Joseph Dutton that there were at least 2,000 burials," she said. "Today, there are only a very few markers in this cemetery and only a few of these have names."

The names of patients sent to Kalaupapa were registered, and the registers have been preserved. However, they become public record only after 80 years.

All the names to be put on the memorial up through 1930 are public, and these account for about 92 percent of the total. For the more recent deaths, several sources are being used to construct a list, and as time passes it will be confirmed and supplemented by the Department of Health archives as they become public.

The Baldwin Boys Home was a living and educational center of the Kalaupapa community from 1894, when it was built with $5,000 donated by Henry P. Baldwin, the Maui sugar grower.

Eventually, Monson said, there were 55 buildings, but as the disease was controlled and the population fell, the home was abandoned in 1932 and the decrepit buildings were burned in the 1930s. In the 1950s, the site was bulldozed. Today, it is a field dotted with a few trees.

It retains much archaeological interest, however.

The park service "is very, very pleased" that the memorial is ready to make progress, Prokop said.

As part of the environmental assessment, scoping meetings were held at Kalaupapa, and on Maui, Lanai, topside Molokai and Oahu in 2009. The Baldwin Boys Home location was strongly preferred by the residents.

Monson said the memorial can be located within the rock wall surrounding the site without affecting the valuable historic remains.

Because designers must know the surrounding landscape of the memorial, the 'Ohana board of directors believes it must get a finding of no significant environmental impact and have the location secured before the project can move forward with the design contest or more fundraising, she said.

Some money already has been donated and is being held in a memorial fund.

Fundraising will be done through Ka 'Ohana's website ( and public events. One of these is a traveling exhibit of photographs and quotations from the people of Kalaupapa and their families.

"The memorial will serve as a type of 'communal tombstone,' as Bishop Larry Silva pointed out in his letter of support for the memorial," Monson said. "By listing the names of those who were sent to Kalaupapa because they were thought to have had leprosy, the memorial will return these individuals to the history that they helped to create and hopefully give their families a place to find peace, pride and healing."

Ka 'Ohana O Kalaupapa was the idea of longtime Kalaupapa leader Bernard Punikai'a. About 15 years ago, he became concerned that as the Kalaupapa community aged and the population got smaller, their voices would no longer be heard, and that Kalaupapa's future could be determined by outsiders or those who had no personal connections with the people of Kalaupapa or knowledge of the area's history.

The organization was formed as a nonprofit in 2003.

The board of directors is made up of four Kalaupapa kupuna, six family members/descendants and three longtime friends. The president is Clarence Kahilihiwa, who has been a resident of Kalaupapa for more than 50 years.

The environmental assessment is online at

It also can be read at the Molokai Public Library, the Molokai Museum & Cultural Center and other locations. For more information, call Leslie Kanoa Naeole at (808) 567-6802.

Comments can be submitted online or by mail to Kalaupapa National Historical Park, P.O. Box 2222, Kalaupapa 96742.

* Harry Eagar can be reached at


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